UNI professor, students won't declare mask conflict resolved

The University of Northern Iowa is keen to move beyond the controversy over its decision to discipline a biology professor who insisted that students wear masks in his class. The university announced on October 6 that it had “reached an agreement” with Professor Steve O’Kane after “listening to the concerns and working closely with all parties involved.” O’Kane will teach an advanced plant systematics course online, and another faculty member will take over the classroom teaching, where participants won’t have to cover their noses and mouths.

The written statement asserted, “UNI continues to support the rights of all our faculty, staff and students and is pleased to have reached a resolution that protects all of those involved.”

O’Kane and his students don’t feel their interests were protected.

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UNI's pandering to anti-maskers reaches new depths

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) has punished biology Professor Steve O’Kane and threatened him with possible termination after he told students to wear masks in a course he teaches in person, Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. None of O’Kane’s students had complained about the request. All who had signed up for his specialized class are now left without a qualified instructor.

It’s the latest example of how Iowa’s state universities and their governing body value the feelings of anti-maskers over the health and safety of students and staff, reducing the quality of education and bringing faculty morale to new lows.

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ISU accounting problems delay many other state audits

Accounting problems at Iowa State University have delayed not only Iowa’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year 2020, but also dozens of annual reports on state government entities.

The ongoing issues at ISU have pushed other audit work months behind schedule, Deputy State Auditor Marlys Gaston explained during a 20-minute presentation to the Iowa Board of Regents on September 15. In addition, Gaston told the governing body for Iowa’s state universities the State Auditor’s office expects to issue an internal control finding to ISU. That rarely happens for the Regents institutions and indicates that ISU’s financial statements for FY2020 included inaccurate information.

ISU switched to the Workday computer system for accounting at the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year. The subsequent challenges raise questions about what will happen when most state government agencies transition to Workday for accounting, which is supposed to occur during the summer of 2022.

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Regents pick highly qualified leader for University of Iowa

Mercifully, history did not repeat itself on April 30, when the Iowa Board of Regents selected Barbara Wilson to be the next University of Iowa president. Wilson is supremely qualified for the job, having served for the last six years as the second-ranking administrator at the University of Illinois system, and in several leadership roles at the Urbana-Champaign campus. A news release enclosed in full below describes her relevant experience.

All four finalists considered this year were far more qualified than outgoing president Bruce Harreld was when the Regents picked him in 2015, following a search marred by favoritism and secret meetings that appeared to violate Iowa’s open meetings law.

Whereas the Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Board of Regents after Harreld was hired, and the Daily Iowan newspaper ran the front-page headline “REGENTS’ DECISION CONDEMNED,” reaction to Wilson’s hiring was overwhelmingly positive from students and faculty. The Daily Iowan’s editorial board had endorsed either Wilson or Georgia State University Provost Wendy Hensel as the best choices to take the university forward.

I was pleasantly surprised the Regents tapped Wilson, even though she fired a football coach and an athletics director at Illinois over scandals including alleged mistreatment of student-athletes. During Harreld’s tenure, Iowa’s Athletics Director Gary Barta continued to receive raises and a contract extension even after costing the university millions of dollars in lawsuits over discrimination and a hostile work environment.

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University of Iowa can't keep utilities deal secrets from auditor

The University of Iowa must comply with a subpoena from State Auditor Rob Sand seeking details on a 50-year deal to lease the university’s utility system to a public-private partnership, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined on April 30.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved the arrangement in December 2019 and closed on the deal in March 2020. But the university withheld many details, including the identity of “Iowa-based investors” who supposedly put up about 21.5 percent of the $1.165 billion lump-sum payment to operate the system for the next five decades.

The State Auditor’s office has been trying to enforce Sand’s subpoena since January 2020. The university and Board of Regents insisted they did not have to provide “confidential” information and disputed the validity of the subpoena.

None of the Supreme Court justices found the university’s stance convincing.

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Iowa governor, Republicans wrong to back billion-dollar borrowing scheme

State Senator Joe Bolkcom makes the case against a deal to lease the University of Iowa utility system for 50 years. The Iowa Board of Regents are scheduled to vote on the plan on December 10, but important details have been kept from the public. -promoted by Laura Belin

Governor Kim Reynolds’ support of an exotic and risky funding scheme is an admission of her failure to support our public universities. GOP tax cuts for wealthy Iowans have led to a dramatic decline in support for our public universities.

It’s hard to believe that Governor Reynolds and legislative Republicans think it makes sense to borrow more than $1 billion dollars to pay for on-going programs at the University of Iowa over the next 50 years.

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